The Friday Tale
The restaurant is bare today, and I sigh in relief. This is just how I like it. Empty with no one else in it.
This is what I want.
I made contact with The One Below centuries ago back in Dahomey, and we made a pact. A meal for a meal. That was the deal, that was what was needed.
I was a younger man then, back when my bones didn’t creak, back when my vision didn’t shake, back when my mind obeyed its master. And it was a simpler world.
But, I wanted power over the people around me. Power over my peers, over my weak father and harlot of a mother. I wanted to show them all who I could be, and I wanted them to be sorry for doubting me.
And so, when I performed the ritual to summon The One Below, and I saw his yellow eyes and his red scaly skin, I didn’t hesitate to spill my blood. I knew what I wanted, and the demon, he knew too.
I felt myself change that night, and I knew what I had to do.
That was four hundred years ago, before the concept of ‘Nigeria’ or ‘Lagos’, before those milk coloured humans would walk our land. Before all the tragedy they brought.
Four hundred years, I sigh again, and I begin to fold the napkins in neat piles.
Four hundred years since I served my first meal at the house. That my father ate.
Four hundred years since he choked, his eyes open and his skin blue.
Four hundred years since his life force, his Ashé, flowed into mine.
Four hundred years since The One Below ate his first meal from me.
A meal for a meal, that was the deal. And deals with the Infernal Ones are to be upheld. No matter what, no matter who.
I begin to put the plates away, and then the cutlery, and one by one, I begin to put the lights in the kitchen off.
Four hundred years is a long time, though. You learn a lot. And those who will not learn life’s lessons will have it taught to them. I found love in those years, somewhere in there. I see his eyes every time I close mine. And then, I see them open, his skin blue, his mouth wide, unable to speak the words that would utter nothing but hurt of the betrayal.
I look at my hands, and I wonder to myself the pain I have wrought on this earth. How many souls have I given The One Below? In truth, I lost count after three hundred and ninety-eight. I don’t even remember their faces. But their years were added to mine. I became stronger and so did The One Below.
I walk to switch off the lights in the main house when he walks in, the blustering idiot with the tattered blazer and confused look on his face.
“Good evening,” he says as he stumbles in. “Please can I buy some food?”
I look at him with eyes that have seen storm and fire, ice and death, pain and destruction, all I had brought. “We’re closed,” I tell him.
“Please,” he says. “I’m very hungry and I haven’t eaten all day.”
“We,” I tell him, “are closed. There’s a Chicken Republic down the road.”
“But it’s closed,” he says. “And I’ve heard good things about this place. My elder brother ate here once before he ran off and left his family and us too.”
I am putting off the lights on the tables but those words make me freeze. “Oh,” I tell him. “That’s…unfortunate.”
The man shrugs. “I guess. I was young when he left,” he says. “He even left his wife and his two kids without saying anything. Isn’t that fucked up?”
I take a breath. “Yes,” I says. “It is, ‘fucked up’.”
I look at the idiot with his square face and sweating figure, and I go to the table with the only light on over it, and I place a menu on it, and pull a chair. “I’ll offer you a meal,” I tell him. “On the house.”
He smiles. “Thanks.”
I grunt and go to the kitchen.
Cooking is an art form, a skill forged in fire over many years of training. It is an art that must open itself to you. You must feel the ingredients over your fingertips. Feel the dip of the knives, the heat of the flames.
I hunch over the sink and I find that I am sweating. My heart is thumping and I feel nauseous. I remember the young man from years ago, the man who wouldn’t shut up about his wife and children. I reach into my pocket and take out a small photograph of a man, a woman, and two little children, a boy and a girl smiling from ear to ear. This is the only thing remaining of him.
I take a breath, stand, straighten my sweater vest, and I begin to make a meal.
I come out of the kitchen with the steam following me. It ismy famous roasted chicken with chilli sauce. My prized recipe. I killed the chickens myself.
I walk to the table, and the man looks at me with waiting eyes, his fork and knife ready, and I place the food on the table, and take a seat.
The food is in front of me. And only one of us can feel the dark magic that coils in the very cells of the meat. Only one of us knows the danger.
“You’re eating?” the man says. “Where’s my food then?”
I look at him, and for perhaps the first time in my life, I am quiet.
“And,” he continues, “how come you’re the only worker here. Doesn’t it get busy,” then he drops into a whisper, “and lonely?”
Four hundred years is a long time, and if there is one thing I know, it is time. You must know your time, and understand that you do not dictate it.
You understand the flow. You can plant the mango tree, but you can not make it bear apples.
Your time is your time.
I look at the blustering man as he drones on and on and I place the photograph on the table and silence falls as he looks at it, then he looks at me.
I say nothing as I take a bite of the food, and feel my body burn and freeze at the same time, and my eyes bulge with the sudden pressure and I see my fingers turn blue. I feel The One Below underneath. And I know that I am the one meal he has been expecting.
The one he has been waiting for.
A meal for a meal, that was the deal. And deals with the Infernal Ones are to be upheld.
No matter what, no matter who.
Thank you for reading! This series is born out of me asking my followers on all my social media questions, and writing short stories out of it. You can join in too! Follow me on any platform @AnthonyAzekwoh